“Only a small percentage of Satanists live their lives openly because they do, in fact, face bigotry, misunderstanding, and backlash from people,” the photojournalist Anthony Karen tells me. “I was told they often lose their jobs and face isolation from others. ‘Even own families have turned on us,’ one person said to me. ‘So, most of us keep it quiet, and you would never know unless we told you.’”

Despite the risks that come with identifying openly as a Satanist, a small group of practitioners recently allowed Karen access to their world. One Satanic priest, who lives in an undisclosed location in South Carolina, permitted him to enter and photograph a dedicated room in his house known as the Black Parlor, where rituals are conducted. That initial meeting marks the beginning of an ongoing project exploring the religion, its nuances and its followers. 

We asked Karen about his experiences thus far. 

Undisclosed location. South Carolina. A Satanic Grimoire. A Grimoire is a book containing the religious texts, rites, rituals, and spells, of occult practitioners. The book shown in this image contains numerous Satanic Rituals, Curses, and religious literature used in the Satanic Religion.

What first drew you to this subject? 

“I am mostly interested in edgy subject matter; for example, embedding with marginalized groups that are considered unsettling and present a challenge to gain access to. I also find myself gravitating towards projects that have an ideological nuance or certain degree of risk to them.”

Undisclosed location. South Carolina. The entrance to the “Black Parlor,” a ritual chamber in the home of a Satanic priest.

Why do you think this priest allowed you into his chamber? How did you meet him?

“I was photographing another project at the time. I noticed a glimpse of what I thought to be a pentagram under one of the attendee’s shirtsleeves, so I asked the individual if his tattoo was of Baphomet, accepted as a universal symbol for Satan. He wound up pulling me to the side and showed me the full tattoo. The person he was with was quiet, and I made an effort to strike up a conversation with him as well. After expressing a past interest in photographing a ritual and the priest seeing that everyone knew me, I was given an open invitation.”

Undisclosed location. South Carolina. The Sigil of Baphomet. Baphomet first appeared in the trial transcripts for the Knights Templar in the 14th century. By the 19th century, the name had come into popular English language. Dating back to 1856, the name of Baphomet has been associated with a goat headed creature that was drawn by Eliphas Levi. Levi was an author of the occult by way of France. This drawing included elements that stand for the sum total of the universe.

What are some of the core values and principles that define Satanism?

“It would be inaccurate if I was to claim that all Satanists are under a universal umbrella as far as ideology and practices, so let me provide you with a list of Anton Szandor LaVey’s Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth, which was written in 1967. This would be a good place to start. 

‘1. Do not give opinions or advice unless you are asked.

‘2. Do not tell your troubles to others unless you are sure they want to hear them.

‘3. When in another’s lair, show him respect or else do not go there.

‘4. If a guest in your lair annoys you, treat him cruelly and without mercy.

‘5. Do not make sexual advances unless you are given the mating signal.

‘6. Do not take that which does not belong to you unless it is a burden to the other person and he cries out to be relieved.

‘7. Acknowledge the power of magic if you have employed it successfully to obtain your desires. If you deny the power of magic after having called upon it with success, you will lose all you have obtained.

‘8. Do not complain about anything to which you need not subject yourself.

‘9. Do not harm little children.

‘10.  Do not kill non-human animals unless you are attacked or for your food.

‘11. When walking in open territory, bother no one. If someone bothers you, ask him to stop. If he does not stop, destroy him.’”

Undisclosed location. South Carolina. An inverted crucifix directly across from a Presbyterian Church is seen through the upstairs window. Some sources attribute to the inception of the Leviathan Cross to the Knights Templar. The symbol was then adopted by Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan. It is said that the higher positioning of the crossbar on a traditional Christian cross indicates submission to a higher power. On the other hand, LaVey’s inversion would have indicated that his beliefs were the opposite, that he lived his life with himself as its center.

What are some misconceptions people have about Satanism, and what is the truth behind some of these misconceptions?

“I learned of many misconceptions. One, in particular, is that Satanists condone human sacrifice. To be more specific, the accusation is that Satanists partake in the killing of babies and virgins. From my experience, apart from one or two rituals that are child-friendly, minors are not permitted to attend rituals. 

“Another generalization is that all satanic organizations host rampant orgies. The truth is that while some Satanists may have actually have intercourse during a particular ritual, the intention is not for pleasure, rather a sort of Sex magick, if you will. There are exceptions with some rituals, but in general, it was said to be ‘difficult to engage in comfortably.’”

Undisclosed location. South Carolina. A Satanic altar in preparation for the ritual of ordainment. A lone candle either black or sometimes red is used to give the new Satanic priest a feeling of the Flames of Hell as he receives his vows of Priesthood.

What happens during a black mass? 

“I can only speak about the group I am documenting, as far as the black mass, this is their oldest ritual, and it has many forms. They have three variants, ranging from a solitary PG-13 version to an R-rated group ritual and even an X-rated version designated for only the highest members of their clergy to perform. However, the universal element in this ritual is the Blasphemy of the Christian God and desecration of the Holy Eucharist. The purpose of this ritual is for the Celebrant to ratify and renew their personal vows to Satan. This is ritual is limited to once or twice a year, and it takes place on specific holidays.” 

Undisclosed location. South Carolina. The music video “Killers With The Cross” performed by the German power metal band Powerwolf plays in the TV room of a Satanist on Halloween.

Was there anything you chose not to photograph while working on this project?

“Aside from two members of the household who didn’t want to be photographed in fear of losing their jobs, I was allowed to photograph whatever I wanted. Being that this was my first time at this person’s house and the fact they were having a ritual that they consider sacred, I felt it was more important for us to get to know one another and kept shooting to a minimum.”

Undisclosed location. South Carolina. A Satanic altar in preparation for the ritual of ordainment.

Why was it important for you to protect the privacy of the people in your photos?

“Because of the subject matter I choose to document, respecting an individual’s privacy is crucial to my continued access, in addition to it being the right thing to do. Whenever I’m shooting a project, my camera stays in my vehicle until I make my rounds and introduce myself to everyone. At this time, I’ll find out who is okay with their picture being taken and identify those who are not. 

“By respecting a person’s right to privacy, as well as letting them get to know me a bit, things become more relaxed, and I can avoid identifying features by being creative if need be. I want to be seen as Anthony, not ‘that photographer guy.’”

What was the most challenging aspect of working on this project?

“I’d say the most challenging was finding a Satanist who would allow me to photograph a mass–actually, allowing me to take pictures of anything, for that matter. Equally challenging was dealing with the ambient light or the lack thereof. The walls of this particular parlor were black with long, drawn red velvet curtains. There were a few scattered candles and a dimly lit overhead light. I’m not an advocate of using a flash in these types of situations (I see it as disrespectful and it disrupts the intimate nature of the mood), so trying to snap a photo at a defining moment with the least amount of movement in shitty light can be extremely frustrating.”

You have a photo of an o9a alter (not pictured). The Order of Nine Angles is a neo-Nazi group. Can you tell us about that? 

“There is a dark side, and that’s important for context. Satanism is generally nothing more than a free-spirited/Left-hand path religion (Aton Lavey), but then there are practitioners who take it to another level. It’s important that I make that distinction clear. Groups like o9a are considered fringe, and most traditional Satanists generally do not have dealings with them or their more violent Nexions. That being said, every religion has its fringe elements that the majority would be happier without.”

How have people responded to the project thus far? 

“Most people who hear that I am documenting Satanism either freak out or they get preachy and robotically rattle off quotes from the Bible. I am comfortable with my beliefs and with the realization that if my God can’t protect me from evil, I must be praying to the wrong God. After all, how can Satan exist unless God allows him to? 

“That said, I do empathize with those who are uncomfortable with certain religious beliefs. I have friends who were ready to have a priest come to expel the darkness from their home in fear of any residual bad juju I was carrying. It’s not up to me to judge someone’s beliefs, so I figured the empathic thing to do was to put their minds at ease best I could. I cleansed myself with burning sage, I had a priest bless me, and I received Holy Communion.”

A member of a Satanic church wearing the Tau Robes and headdress of Ordo Templi Orientis during a black mass. OTO is considered by some Satanists to be an earlier prototype form of Satanism.
Undisclosed location. South Carolina. Baphomet, The Symbol of the satanic goat. Baphomet is portrayed as a half-human, half-goat figure, or goat head. The Church of Satan, founded in 1966 in San Francisco, adopted a rendition of Baphomet to symbolize satanism. The symbol is a goat’s head drawn within an inverted pentacle, enclosed in a double circle. In the outer circle, Hebraic figures at each point in the pentagram spell out Leviathan, a huge water serpent associated with the devil.

All images and captions © Anthony Karen

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